Coal Baron's Somerset Home a Grand Bed and Breakfast

When coal and cattle baron d. B. Zimmerman built his 22-room mansion in 1916, newsmen called it “Somerset’s most pretentious home.”

They didn’t get much argument from observers, who admired architect Horace Trumbauer’s Georgian Colonial design and the house’s native hardwood paneling, polished brass and silver lighting fixtures, crystal and gold-leaf chandeliers, elegant molding and nine fireplaces. Zimmerman enjoyed is palace for only seven years, dying in 1928, still the richest man in Somerset County.

Over the next 70 years, the house went through a series of owners and a sheriff’s sale at which it went for a mere $30,500. By 1989, when it was bought by an Illinois developer, the house looked more precarious than pretentious. that year, Georgian Partners bought it and surrounding property to build an outlet shopping mall.

The developer began restoration in 1990, spending about $200,000 over a year’s time to repair the roof and much of the plaster. But full-scale restoration did not begin until November 1992 when the group decided to make it a bed and breakfast and hired Jon Knupp to be general manager and innkeeper. Under his eye, restoration was completed in six months, and the house reopened as the Inn at Georgian Place, again a monument to the elegance and grandeur of yesteryear.

During the $1 million project, Knupp said workers tried to keep the house true to what it was in 1916 when local engineer Harvey Hostetler supervised construction and E. H. Walker, a Somerset architect, offered ideas to Trumbauer.

The 136-foot building was built with asymmetrical north and south wings. The central portion contained a living room, dining room, drawing room, and a marble-floored entrance hall. A grand staircase, supported by large columns, provided access to five enormous bedrooms, a den, three servants’ rooms, three bathrooms and numerous smaller rooms on the third level. The north wing included the library, breakfast room and kitchen, while the one-story southern wing housed a tile-floored conservatory.

Zimmerman shared the home with his wife Lizzie, daughter Sally, son Ralph and servants. Sally was once engaged to Alf Landon, before his unsuccessful run for the presidency. The engagement party was held at the house, but the wedding never happened. D.B. broke off the engagement – he thought Landon wasn’t good enough for his daughter. Sally never married and lived in the house until 1944. Ralph Zimmerman also remained single, and there were no direct descendants.

All the original light fixtures in the house are from the New York Brass Co. and dated 1900 to 1907. Oak paneling and molding were used throughout the house, except in D.B.’s room, which is cherry, and the dining room, which is walnut.

The nine mantels are all neoclassical in design, featuring carved acanthus leaves, bell flowers, Wedgwood urns, rosettes and double dentil molding. All were intact when the restorers went to work, but the job was far from easy.

“It was a great challenge,” Knupp said, “The hardest part was getting through these walls.”

Temporarily stymied by solid masonry walls from 8 to 24 inches thick, electricians had to make holes in ceilings and floors to run the wires, and then repair as they went. Knupp found tile that matched the original, hiding the repairs.

The $1 million restoration included the furniture, all reproductions of fine pieces in Chippendale, Hepplewhite and Sheraton style. In the living room is a beautifully restored grand piano.

The inn opened in May 1993 with 11 guestrooms and soon gained a reputation for its luxury, elegance and gourmet breakfasts and lunches. It’s become a favorite place to hold weddings, anniversary celebrations and family reunions, as well as business meetings. The terrace, which runs across the entire back, offers a view of Lake Somerset.

The inn was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1993, and, in 1996 and ’97, it won the Outstanding Award from the American Bed & Breakfast Association.

Room rates range from $95 a night for the Garret, a comfortable third-floor bedchamber that reminds you of an indoor garden with its wicker furniture and floral wallpaper and fabrics, to $185 for the Library Suite, which features a king size sleigh bed and an adjacent sitting room filled with overstuffed leather sofa and club chairs. A gourmet breakfast is included.

David and Carol Kubis of Moon Township recently spent a romantic get-away weekend at the Inn.

It’s absolutely beautiful and after viewing the rooms, I’ve decided that at heart my decorating style must be Georgian.” said Carol. “Our anniversary is in February, and I’ve already told David that I want to spend it here. In fact, I even know which room I want to be in.” Knupp says guests come from all over the Tri-State area, but most are from Pittsburgh, Greensburg, Latrobe and Murrysville.

Knupp, who oversaw every part of the restoration and is trying to buy the inn, is justifiably proud of it.

“It’s a place to enjoy a magnificent mansion and home from the turn of the century that also gives you the modern conveniences of the ‘90’s,” he said.

(Published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Saturday, November 14, 1998.)

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